A large portion of the visually-impaired world owes a big slice of gratitude to the unassuming blind Frenchman, Louis Braille. As people know already, this 19th century genius developed a system that enabled blind people to “read” texts. Because the system uses a network of elevated dots for a more efficient tactile understanding of texts, the visually-impaired are given a great opportunity to better understand thousands of things through the use of letters.
For all its huge benefits, the Braille was also cumbersome and requires painstaking effort to produce. The increasing popularity and influence of 3D printing technology is the perfect answer to whatever shortcomings the Braille had. The latest developments in this technology will allow blind people, teachers, and supporters to print Braille effortlessly on a wide variety of surfaces. As the text part of learning is already addressed to a very high degree, the presentation of diagrams that are indispensable in speeding up the learning and in making lessons more interesting are now taking the spotlight.
Due to the nature of their shortcomings, the visually-impaired have been asked for years to make do with other materials instead of the usual pictures when it comes to learning. Every educator knows how important picture books are for a child’s development. The impressive contributions of 3D printing technology in so many areas must be a ray of hope for blind children. There must be something this sophisticated technology can do to enhance standard publishing procedures for the blind kids.
Thankfully, this hope is fulfilled by a team of researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, led by computer science professor, Tom Yeh. For almost two years, Yeh has been working on a project called Tactile Picture Books, where visually-impaired kids can “visualize” pictures through tactile feedback. In fact, his son’s favorite story, Goodnight Moon, was his first-ever 3D printed version of a book using both Braille text and 3D pictures. Although his son is not visually-impaired, Yeh saw the implications of what the idea can do for those who truly need to experience such tactile-based perceptions.
The latest development is found in the software being used. Currently, the software can now allow anyone to 3D print practically any book that can help blind children experience stories like no other visually-impaired children have experienced before.
Naturally, the open source design has spawned off more than a few very interesting ideas and designs that can only mean well for blind kids all over the world. Presently, blind children can experience the joys of 3D printed maps, puzzles, and timeless classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Noah’s Ark. The pages feature a combination of Braille text and 3D pictures. This blend is undoubtedly the best way to facilitate learning and to generate interest among blind kids.
The overwhelming insights are gained not only by the visually-impaired children, but also by the creators of the project. Many of the researchers were touched and inspired by the kind of attention to detail and concern the teachers were showing for their blind students. For them, it takes more than a little adjustment to make the book hugely interesting for a pair of hands, instead for a set of eyes.
Tactile Picture Book Project allows anyone interested to download the files for free.